Christian Reilly, CTO of Citrix's Workspace Services Division, spoke with TechRepublic about his history in IT, the role of consumerization in the enterprise, and how he defines his role as CTO.
In 1982, 10-year-old Christian Reilly got his first home computer. He immediately took it apart.
"I wanted to understand how it went back together again and what it did," he said.
Reilly's interest, and subsequent career, in technology has since taken him around the world and across multiple industries. Now, Reilly is the VP and CTO of Citrix's Workspace Services Division, a position he took in March 2015.
Originally from northern England, his career started at a company called ICL, a UK government computing arm spin off that was later acquired by Fujitsu. It was here that he got his first exposure to systems engineering, taking business requirements from customers and working with his department to make it work.
After a couple years at ICL, he moved to a large engineering construction company called Bechtel, where he initially worked as a manager of global systems engineering. With no previous construction or engineering experience, he had to learn quickly. The job took him to the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, the Caribbean, and the US. Each project had a completely different construct, and there was always an opportunity to try new technologies.
"I think the fact that I was always at the forefront of wanting to push technology into a business solution, and wasn't really afraid to try things — I think that opened a lot of doors for me from a leadership perspective," he said.
His work at Bechtel led to his relationship with Citrix, which began more than a decade ago. In rebuilding the IT infrastructure for Bechtel, they used a lot of Citrix products and technologies, especially when working on their private cloud. Now, he's working for the company.
As CTO, he defines his role as three points on a triangle. They're not always equally weighted, but they are all equally valuable. The first point is strategy, which includes what's going on in the tech industry, and also in the market. One-third of the role is inward-facing, working with the different product groups in the company.The final point is split between working with customers and engaging other outward-facing industry obligations, such as events or conferences.
The general philosophy Reilly holds is that you must keep moving forward. Because, he said, the second you begin to accept the status quo, "somebody else will find a way to engineer around you."
However, if you don't seek to understand the language of the business or industry you're operating in, all of your efforts could be in vain.
"My experiences around that were — you could have the best technology and the best solution in the world but if you can't articulate its value in a business context and then very quickly establish people on the business side who will champion your ideas, it's a long and hard road," he said.
As someone who has worked through a variety of tech trends in the workplace, Reilly said we are still feeling an impact from consumerization of IT, even if it isn't in the headlines as much as it's been in the recent past.
Consumerization is a good thing, he said, because it has helped to re-establish a "modern feel" to enterprise IT. Still, there are massive number of legacy systems currently in operation and will be for quite some time. Traditional enterprise technology is not something we can turn off at will and, because of that, IT will be dealing with the co-existence of legacy systems and consumerized tech for a little while. That co-existence will present some unique issues to deal with including security and compliance.
With other tech trends, such as AI, machine learning, and big data, he believes they will come into the niches opportunities first before become beachheads in the enterprise overall. When they do make their appearance, he said, they will likely require changes in IT management and IT philosophy to help employees cope with the effects.
"The good news is that technology overall is getting simpler," he said. "It's simpler to assimilate, simpler to adopt. It's not necessarily simpler to integrate yet, so I think we've got a long way to go on integration and to make that sustainable going forward. "
Reflecting back on his career, Reilly said that if he could go back in time and give himself advice when he was starting out, it would be to seek exposure to as many different technologies as possible. The reason being that he has seen numerous specialized roles made obsolete by technological advancement.
The silver lining, he said, is that opportunities for learning new and broader skill sets abound in the modern workplace, and new technologists have the good fortune of being able to always be on the cutting edge.
In his own words...
What do you do to unplug?
"There's two things. My real passion is music. So, I've DJ'd with most electronic music from the late 80s through to right now. I have a recording studio at home and I have my entire music creation and playing area set up here in the house. That's my go-to thing. If you put a pair of headphones on me, I'm a completely different guy.
"My second one is cricket. For any US audience that might not mean a lot, but it's kind of like baseball but played by English people. When it's summer over here in the UK, like it is at the moment, there's a lot of cricket that goes on. That's one of my big passions. I've played that since I was four years old. I'm still going just about in that. I find it very relaxing, it's a great way to spend a day being in the fresh air."
What's the best thing you've read lately?
"I would have to say the best one I've read lately is actually part of a three-publication series which started with Clayton M. Christensen — I guess everybody probably will have heard of the Innovator's Dilemma, which is a number of years old now...The latest one I read was actually the third part of that which was the Innovator's DNA, which is an amazing publication. It actually takes five case studies of people who are considered to be fantastic innovators within their field and looks at the traits of innovators. It's not necessarily about what they did but it really dives into what they were like as people and what kind of environment they created within their organization. It's a fabulous read..."
If you weren't working in tech, what other profession would you love to try?
"I always harbored secret desires to be a commercial airline pilot and never quite got there for a number of reasons. Life took over and I ended up on the path that I'm on. I was very fortunate when I was at Bechtel to work on the construction of the biggest ever greenfield airport in the world, which is in Doha in Qatar. I spent a number of years out there as the IT director on that project. So, I was in and around aviation which is one of my real enthusiasm things. I spend a lot of time reading about aviation and trying to understand where it's going and where it came from."